‘Jail lite’ for former official

2017-01-29 06:01
Russel Ngubo.  (Mark Wing, Mail&Guardian.)

Russel Ngubo. (Mark Wing, Mail&Guardian.)

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Durban - Jailed former corrections boss Russel Ngubo allegedly assaulted a pregnant warder at the medium security Sevontein Prison in Pietermaritzburg last week and he has been transferred to the C-Max maximum security prison in Kokstad in a bid to curb his “behavioural problems”.

Ngubo, a former ANC councillor and branch chairperson at Stoffelton near Impendle in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands, was transferred to C-Max on Monday where warders hoped he would be placed in isolation for assessment, according to procedure.

However, City Press has established that he has been placed in the prison’s hospital wing for an undisclosed illness, which some warders argue symbolised a continuation of perceived preferential treatment and comfort.

In last week’s attack, Ngubo allegedly punched the warder in the face and tried to kick her in the stomach, according to another warder. He said the official managed to block the kick with her baton. Ngubo had apparently become enraged because she was too slow to open a gate so he could see his visitors.

A warder who asked not to be named, as he is not authorised to speak to the media, told City Press that Ngubo was only moved to C-Max after the pregnant warder laid criminal charges with the police at New Hanover and her colleagues refused to go to work.

“This is the third time he assaulted officials and nobody held him to account because of his connection with [KwaZulu-Natal correctional services boss Mnikelwa] Nxele,” the warder said.

Foam mattress

Nxele has publicly denied any relationship with Ngubo. He had agreed to an interview with City Press, but did not take calls at the agreed time. Department of correctional services spokesperson Thulani Mdluli did not respond to detailed written questions by the time of going to press.

SA Police Service (SAPS) spokesperson Colonel Vincent Zwane confirmed that a female corrections officer had laid an assault charge at New Hanover police station, but that no arrest had been made.

Ngubo’s prison stay since 2005 has been dogged by multiple claims that he is being given preferential treatment by his former colleagues and comrades.

Ngubo now sleeps on a reclining hospital bed, rather than on a 91cm foam mattress on a concrete slab like the rest of the C-Max population and he is not subjected to 23-hour isolation each day.

Ngubo, a former correctional services drill sergeant who became head of the Pietermaritzburg New Prison, was jailed for 25 years for several political murders carried out in the 1990s. He was jailed in 2005 for the murder of IFP member Ernest Nzimande in 1998. He and a group of other ANC-supporting prisons officials used state vehicles and firearms to assassinate Nzimande and IFP leader Nash Ndlovu. Ngubo’s brother and four SAPS members had earlier been murdered during an investigation to identify IFP-aligned hit men who had burned the Ngubo homestead and had shot Ngubo in the arm.

His immediate admission to prison hospital is, according to correctional services officers, a violation of standard procedures that state that a prisoner readmitted to C-Max for behavioural problems should undergo assessment before being placed in a medical or other section.

“This is unfair,” said a senior corrections officer who cannot be named as he is not authorised to talk to the media. “He is not under isolation for 23 hours per day like the rest of prisoners. What we are seeing here is another example of the inequality in our prisons,” the official said.

“Kokstad works on a three-phase system. When prisoners are sent for behavioural problems, they first have to go through an assessment phase. After assessment, they are placed in a behavioural modification phase and then in a third phase for orientation before being sent back to the centre of origin,” he said.

Previous position

Since Ngubo was incarcerated, corrections officers have been complaining that he has been given special treatment. He was moved from Westville Corrections Centre to C-Max after allegedly assaulting warders before being moved to Sevontein, normally populated by low-risk prisoners because of its medium security status.

A warder with experience at Sevontein, who may also not be named as he is not authorised to talk to the media, told City Press that last week’s assault was the result of security breaches.

“Normally, if a prisoner is being moved, they are accompanied by a member. In this case, the offender had moved through a security gate alone and was able to beat a pregnant female member. Why was he allowed to move around alone? That is the question you must ask,” he said.

Another Pretoria-based corrections official said Ngubo was being “protected” because of his previous position in the prisons service and his relationship with ANC leaders.

“It’s been that way since he was sent to jail ... Warders who complain are moved, section heads have been moved, those who are assaulted are told to keep quiet or given transfers or promotions. This man is untouchable,” he said.

Ngubo’s relationship with Nxele has been raised in papers submitted to the labour court by former Westville Medium B head Mfanafuthi Nxumalo, who claimed he was transferred by Nxele after he had an “altercation” with Ngubo.

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